Unionizing Efforts Made Easier?

June 22, 2011
NLRBs proposed regulations would shorten election campaigns and hurt employers, critics say.

For manufacturers trying to keep unions out of their facilities, two proposed regulations are likely to make their efforts more challenging, critics say.

The National Labor Relations Board on June 21 proposed a series of reforms that it claims will speed pre- and post-election procedures in union-representation elections. The amendments "are designed to fix flaws in the board's current procedures that build in unnecessary delays," according to the NLRB.

A day earlier, the U.S. Labor Department proposed a rule on reporting the use of labor relations consultants.

Both proposals help labor at the expense of employers, says the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

When organized labor failed to pass its top priority, the card check bill, we knew it was only a matter of time before the administration used the regulatory process to tilt the playing field in organized labors favor during union campaigns, said Randy Johnson, the Chambers senior vice president of labor, immigration, and employee benefits, in a prepared statement.

The proposed rules by the DOL and the NLRB, coming one day apart, are a blatant attempt to give unions the upper hand by limiting the ability of employers to exercise their free speech rights, Johnson said.

Shorter Election Campaigns

A union can petition the NLRB for an election at a facility once 30% of employees at the location have signed authorization cards. Typically, the election takes place about 42 days later.

Also, typically unions have the most support at the time they file their petitions, says lawyer Michael S. Pepperman, a partner in the Labor Relations and Employment Law Department of Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel.

The new NLRB rules likely would shorten the time between the filing and the election, although the proposed rules present no specific timeline. One result of the shortened time frame is that employers would have less time to educate their workers against unionizing (if they want to remain union-free), which likely would translate into unions winning larger percentages of elections, Pepperman says.

Under current regulations, unions win more than 60% of elections.

The DOLs proposed rule revises Section 203 of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, which outlines the need to disclose certain agreements between employers and labor relations consultants when a consultant undertakes activities aimed at persuading workers whether or not to exercise their rights to organize and bargain collectively. The proposal would expand the activities that need to be publicly disclosed.

Pepperman downplays the significance of the DOL proposal in comparison with the NLRBs reform efforts.

The public can submit comments on the DOL proposal until Aug. 22.

The NLRB will hold a public hearing on its proposed reforms July 18 and possibly July 19, and provide a 60-day period to accept written comments.

Pepperman points out that some companies choose to remain neutral during unionizing efforts, lessening the potential impact of the proposed regulations.

And for companies that want to remain union-free, he offers this advice: Be a good employer. You take away the desire [of employees] to seek outside representation.

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About the Author

Jill Jusko

Bio: Jill Jusko is executive editor for IndustryWeek. She has been writing about manufacturing operations leadership for more than 20 years. Her coverage spotlights companies that are in pursuit of world-class results in quality, productivity, cost and other benchmarks by implementing the latest continuous improvement and lean/Six-Sigma strategies. Jill also coordinates IndustryWeek’s Best Plants Awards Program, which annually salutes the leading manufacturing facilities in North America.

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